Nearly 12 months since the 10,000-hectare park on the NSW Far South Coast was renamed to Beowa, traditional custodians and South Sea Islander elders came together for a special celebration with cultural dances, music and an emotional Welcome to Country.
The decision to rename Ben Boyd National Park followed requests to scrap Boyd's name after historian Mark Dunn confirmed his role in "blackbirding", a practice that involved the coercion of people through deception or kidnapping to work as slaves or poorly paid labourers.
For Thaua elder Steven Holmes the name change and its celebration on Saturday, November 11, was "a long time coming", but seeing it renamed in Thaua language made him feel very proud.
"I didn't believe such a big place that holds a very special spot in my heart should be named after a man who hurt so many people," he said.
"Being a traditional custodian, it meant a lot to all the Thaua people to finally get rid of Ben Boyd's name."
With representatives from Thaua Country Aboriginal Corporation, Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council, Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council, Twofold Aboriginal Corporation and the Australian South Sea Islanders community attending, all reflected on the significant shift towards truth telling.
Uncle Steven said the ceremony on November 11 was very special to him as "everything that needed to be said was".
"It was also great to finally meet the South Sea Islander elders as I'd never met them face to face before," he said.
Uncle Steven said seeing the South Sea Islanders cultural dance had been an unforgettable experience.
"They had everyone really mesmerised, thinking 'wow this is something', their songs, dances, the masks were just incredible," he said.
Chairwoman of the Australian South Sea Islanders, Port Jackson group and Sydney City councillor Waskam Emelda Davis said the celebration was particularly important for Aboriginal and South Sea Islander people because they were "wan sol wara", meaning one saltwater people.
"Celebrating the renaming gives ownership, it de-colonises what occurred, and it tells the truth," she said.
"It speaks truth to the First Nations people of this region, that have sustained for over 65,000 years, bringing to light the atrocities that occurred for Aboriginal and South Sea Islanders."
Once the ceremonies, dancing, music and speeches were complete the mingling and story telling began.
"There was food there which I couldn't even get to because I was too busy with people coming up to ask questions, wanting to know more about how our ancestors were connected to the whales," Uncle Steven said.
"I was telling them how our ancestors used to work with the killer whales and swim with them too."
Uncle Steven said the new name, Beowa, meaning 'orca' or 'killer whale', not only paid respect to the cultural heritage of the local area but also the community's love for Old Tom.
"Tom's sitting in the museum and now we've got the name Beowa all around us and that's why it all works out for me because Tom gets that respect."
Uncle Steven talked about his people's long-lasting friendship with the orca in Eden, especially Old Tom, telling anecdotes of Old Tom swimming up to his ancestor Budgenbro.
"They used to come every year and the pod would stay out near North Heads and only Tom would come in," he said.
"He'd swim up to their camps, splash about and make a noise to let them know he was there."
Uncle Steven said in the nine years he had been lobbying for the removal of Boyd's name from the national park, he'd seen more orcas returning to Twofold Bay.
"To see them coming back is such a good feeling, seeing orcas in the bay and knowing the name change means that the stories around Old Tom and the orcas is getting out, is just great," he said.
Uncle Steven said seeing National Parks' actions in acknowledging Aboriginal cultural connections by re-naming place names such as Beowa (among others), with traditional language was a "great feeling".
"Growing up here as a kid I knew some of the traditional names for places, but back then Aboriginal people weren't allowed to discuss their culture of anything like that," he said.
"So I'm glad they're changing the names as it shows National Parks are starting to listen."
Eden Local Aboriginal Lands Council chairperson BJ Cruse said last year's renaming process and new name for the park marked a positive action towards reconciliation.
"It rectified wrongs of the past by taking the honour away from someone that didn't deserve it and acknowledges Aboriginal people," he said.
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